Google to scrap contentious paywall policy

Subscription-based news sites like the Financial Times and The Times have tended to give readers access to a small number of articles for free, before hitting them with a paywall. They do this for good reason. Google has, up to now, deprioritised paywalled sites that don’t provide users three free articles per day.

Google to scrap contentious paywall policy

That looks like it could soon change. The search giant announced this Sunday that it will be relaxing rules around its “first click free” policy, meaning news organisations will no longer drop in search rankings for not offering free articles.

As Reuters reports, this move follows a series of complaints from the likes of the Rupert Murdoch-led News Corp., which owns newspapers including The Times and The Wall Street Journal. The latter made a decision earlier in the year to no longer abide by Google’s policy. It suffered a fall in search rankings but found an increase in subscriptions.

Google originally put its policy into place under the assertion that free articles would act as samples, and that these would lead to increases in subscriptions. That hasn’t been the case, and Google has now decided to reorder the balance of its algorithms to not penalise paywalled content.    

“Over the last year, we got clear indications that, yes, it was going to be important for publishers to grow subscription revenues,” Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president for news, told Reuters.

Google is also developing free software for publishers, which would allow users to pay for content with card information stored by the search company. The intention is to streamline the process, with readers able to pay for articles with a single click. Apple has previously released subscription support in its News app, and Facebook is also understood to be working on a similar technology.

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